The UK exported a record-breaking 5.5TWh of power, worth around £1.5 billion, to Europe in the second quarter of 2022, says Drax Electric Insights in a new report.
In doing so, Drax confirmed these never seen before figures made the UK a net exporter of electricity for the first time in over a decade.
The Electric Insights report, commissioned via Imperial Consultants, showed that in the three months to June 2022, 8% (5.5TWh) of the electricity generated by Britain was exported abroad – the largest amount on record.
The rise in power exports to the continent coincides with the energy crisis that has been amplified by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, leading to major rises in the costs of wholesale gas. This situation had also been amplified by reliability problems within France’s nuclear power stations.
“Britain has played an important role in helping to keep the lights on across Europe amid the deepening energy crisis which is being weaponised by Russia against our nearest neighbours,” said Dr Iain Staffell of Imperial College London, and lead author of the Electric Insights report.
“With Europe now facing long-term security of supply problems, there could be an economic argument for Britain to step up investment in power production in the years ahead to build an even bigger trade surplus and protect our nation from damaging energy shortages.”
One case study, which showcased that Norway had been exporting more power than usual via its hydro reservoirs, highlighted an opportunity for the UK to boost its role in the global power market.
With the UK having around 3GW of pumped hydro energy storage (PHES), an opportunity is available to boost this renewable energy source and cater for the growing demand in Europe. This will be heightened with the growing need to decarbonise both the UK and EU.
Referenced within the report, Norway’s vast quantities of PHES had been used to balance out drops in supply from intermittent sources of electricity such as wind and solar farms even in the UK.
This provides a basis for the UK to continue the required scaling of long-duration energy storage capacity to achieve net zero. However, this opportunity is plagued with barriers. One of which is the difficulties securing private investment in PHES with it having been almost 40 years since a new station had been built in the UK, Drax said.
These barriers have previously been highlighted by Scottish Renewables. The energy company warned in May 2021 that the UK’s climate change targets will not be met without the removal of barriers to long duration storage including PHES.
“Britain desperately needs a new generation of pumped storage hydro plants to strengthen its own energy security, but it is clear the rest of Europe would benefit as well,” said Ian Kinnaird, Drax’s Scottish assets director.
“We have the opportunity to become Europe’s power battery, helping our friends and neighbours reduce their dependence on energy from Russia whilst enabling more homegrown renewable electricity to power UK homes and businesses. It’s an opportunity which Britain should take, or risk being left behind by other countries.”
Drax is among companies dedicated to developing pumped hydro sites. The firm submitted an application for planning consent to expand its pumped hydro Cruachan Power Station in Scotland to 1GW, however stressed the need for proper frameworks to support long duration energy storage in the UK.
The plans aim to add an additional 400MW of energy storage capacity on top of the already available 600MW. The development would see a new cavern and tunnels hollowed out in Ben Cruachan – Argyll’s highest mountain – by excavating two million tonnes of rock.
Construction of the new pumped hydro plant would create around 900 jobs across the supply chain over a six-year period, with the potential for the plant to be operation by 2030.